We see the disastrous impact of the War on Drugs on cities like Chicago every day. Gang violence led to 23 more shootings — and two fatalities — this past weekend alone. It never stops.
But as violent as Chicago and many of our cities across the nation seem, it pales in comparison to the way much of Mexico has been ravaged by the endless bloodshed stemming from cartel violence. My question is why?
Mexico is a thoroughfare for drugs making their way to the United States. By and large, Mexico is not the final destination. The violence, corruption, chaos and fear across Mexico stems from a policy designed to help stop the flow of drugs, but most of those drugs are not intended for Mexican consumers. In other words, their country is under siege mainly to help enforce a policy intended for the United States — a policy that doesn’t even work in the first place.
Imagine if the Mexican government said, “This is not our problem. This is not our war. If the U.S. government wants to stop drugs from entering their country, they can deal with it at the border.”
Almost immediately, many of the problems plaguing Mexico start to diminish. If there’s no attempted enforcement of drug laws, there’s no more opportunity for corruption. Who are you going to bribe when drugs are already legal? And if there’s no attempt to stop the movement of drugs — if it can be done openly and freely — there’s no need for most of the violence consuming cities like Juarez.
Yes, cartels will still battle each other, but once the new norms set in, the reasons to do so will plummet. When bloodshed and violence is no longer necessary, it’s also no longer seen as an appropriate cost of doing business.
And imagine the leverage legalization gives Mexico in the incessant war of words with President Donald Trump. “You want our cooperation at the borders? You want us to even bother to regulate this? Sure. Now let’s talk about that wall. And that renegotiation of NAFTA you’re so excited about. You probably shouldn’t get your hopes up.”
If Mexico changes its policy, the price we pay here in Chicago and across the United States will start to seem even more unwarranted and more severe: no number of police officers, DEA agents and prison sentences can change human nature (and given the close connection between Chicago and Mexico, as norms change in Mexico, that will probably be reflected in Chicago first before anywhere else in the U.S.).
No matter how hard Mayor Rahm Emanuel works on the problem, no matter how many community groups get involved, this is not solvable under the current framework. There will always be a market for drugs, whether legally or illegally. But we can channel it logically and put an end to the carnage.
Think about it: we don’t have incessant violence and corruption around alcohol because it’s taxed, regulated and legal (except during Prohibition, whose repeal proves the folly of the War on Drugs). We could take all of those resources that go to arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating drug offenders and instead invest it into treatment for the opioid epidemic. We could do something useful that actually helps people. Or, we can keep burying our heads in the sand.
Would Mexico ever legalize drugs? It is a deeply Catholic country (although I wouldn’t be shocked if Pope Francis agreed with legalization). And there are plenty of valid health concerns around legalization of all drugs. But it’s hard to see how the status quo helps anyone. Far more important, virtually every citizen of Mexico knows the impact of the current system firsthand. They live it every day.
Worst case, the threat alone would give Mexico leverage with an American president who uses Mexico as campaign fodder. Best case, the violence and corruption actually stops. And ideally, it spurs action here too that ultimately puts an end to an endless cycle of senseless violence. It’s worth a hard look.
Bradley Tusk is the founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings, a venture capital fund and political consulting firm. He served as deputy governor of Illinois from 2003-2006, and also served as New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s campaign manager and as Sen. Chuck Schumer’s communications director. His family foundation, Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies, recently funded the successful fight to expand school breakfast in Illinois.
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